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Off Limits

Ned heads: Mike Torpie and his campaign manager, Mountain Girl.
Anthony Camera

The following item violates the City of Denver Solid Waste Management Department's recently issued guidelines concerning media coverage of graffiti and graffiti-related issues. Reader discretion is advised.

Spray it, don't say it: Last month, a criminal artist or artists unknown spray-painted a dozen stencil-graffiti images of commander-in-chief George W. Bush, along with the slogan "Liberate America, Kill Bush," on a concrete wall in the 4800 block of South Yosemite Street.

The Greenwood Village Police Department immediately launched an investigation and notified the Secret Service, because threatening the life of the president is a felony and a federal offense (as is threatening a presidential candidate, à la "Die, Nader, Die, You 5% Pulling Tofu Cruncher"). Village officials also called in street-gang experts to explore the possible connection between the "Kill Bush" stencils and "gang-like" tagging graffiti discovered on the same wall.

No arrests have been made thus far, and no conclusive evidence has been found of a conspiracy to do a drive-by on a certain ranch in Crawford, Texas. Greenwood Village police have, however, logged multiple reports of further "Kill Bush" stencil sightings on sidewalks and walls elsewhere in the metro area, including along East Colfax Avenue between Colorado Boulevard and Monaco Parkway.

Oops. We did it again.

Three days after the "Kill Bush" stencils were discovered, Solid Waste Management's "Graffiti in the Media" announcement arrived: "There has been a lot of public concern about graffiti in recent weeks. Solid Waste Management appreciates the media's coverage of this issue and would like to pass along some information we hope you will find helpful while reporting graffiti-related stories.

Please photograph graffiti out of focus to distort the actual writing.

Please do not disclose locations of recently cleaned areas, recently hit or tagged areas, or areas where owners and residents are diligently maintaining their communities.

Taggers see this as a battlefield, where they must win."

Fear not, good people of Denver. The battle is joined, and we have dutifully filed the above under "Solid Waste."

Play ball! By any measure, Doug Kauffman has more than enough to keep him busy. As the founder and co-owner of the promotion firm Nobody in Particular Presents, he oversees four local music venues -- the Ogden, Bluebird and Gothic theaters, plus the Lion's Lair -- that collectively put on dozens of shows a month. He's also had to deal with plenty of off-stage drama: In January, shortly after former partner Jesse Morreale ended his association with the company, the City of Denver closed NIPP's offices over a back-taxes dispute. A settlement was brokered in that case, but NIPP still owes big bucks to another promoter, House of Blues, and its lawsuit against Clear Channel Entertainment for alleged anti-competitive practices continues to wind its way through the courts.

So what's on Kauffman's mind these days? Softball.

Kauffman has played competitive softball for a couple of decades at facilities all over the metro area, but the diamond at Sonny Lawson Park, at 23rd and Welton streets, is the field of his dreams. When he moved to Denver from his native Michigan in 1981, he drove straight to Sonny Lawson because it had been immortalized in On the Road, Jack Kerouac's picaresque opus. Kauffman can still quote from the scene in which "strange young heroes of all kinds, white, colored, Mexican, pure Indian" raced across the outfield on an evening when Sal Paradise, Kerouac's fictional doppelgänger, wished he were "a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a 'white man' disillusioned."

Today, the area around Sonny Lawson is just as diverse as it was in Kerouac's day, and the culture is equally rich, something that hasn't escaped notice. In conjunction with the Denver Musicians Association and several other groups, the city is staging a Five Points Jazz concert in the park on April 25, with a bill featuring Mood Express, Purnell Steen, Le Jazz Machine and the Denver Jazz Orchestra. For Kauffman, the park's environment enhances the game, as do what he delicately refers to as "colorful characters who sit out beyond the left-field fence. They'll give you advice on how to play and yell that somebody should warn them if you hit a home run, because they're right in the line of fire."

The setting doesn't charm everyone, which helps explain why there's been little organized softball at Sonny Lawson for "four or five years," Kauffman says. So he's taken it upon himself to pull a Wednesday-night league together. Although he's already gotten a commitment from three teams, his included, Kauffman needs nine to make the project viable. Once enough players are assembled, he'll happily let Ernie Perez of Softball in Denver oversee the contests. But the season starts May 12, so he needs interested athletes to call him -- soon -- at the NIPP office.

Yes, Kauffman has a lot on his plate -- but that won't stop him from stepping up to the plate at Sonny Lawson Field. "To me, softball's a priority, just like concert promoting is," he says. "You've got to fit it all in."

High anxiety: Election day is next Tuesday in Nederland, the beatific blue-collar hamlet seventeen miles up Boulder Canyon. Late last week, though, there were no campaign signs up for any of the seven candidates vying for the three spots on the town's board of trustees. The only symptom of election fever was the twin banners hanging outside the town accountant's office -- one for each of the two candidates running for mayor. Still, on April 6, more than a quarter of this town's 1,380 souls are expected to turn out to vote in the most contentious general election in decades.

The Great Race of 2004 makes us wonder if Nederland might not have been more suited to the pioneer way of solving problems -- with a simple gunfight. On local websites and in the pages of The Mountain-Ear newspaper is a firestorm focused on the Nederland police force, whose new chief, Ken Robinson, has stepped up law-enforcement efforts. As a result, some residents complain that the town feels more like a police state than a laid-back haven for free thinkers, artists, mountaineers and other rat-race dodgers, and they're hoping to install a candidate who comes down on their side of the law.

In January, a group of Ned heads formed Citizens for Open Government, with the idea of addressing perceived shortcomings of the town's board of trustees, Nederland's flailing economy and the police. But COG soon focused on the cops: The group has endorsed a slate of candidates it views as sympathetic to business owners and individuals who feel adversely affected by heavy-handed law enforcement. And in the process, COG itself has become a focal point of local gossip, its members portrayed as pro-drug, anti-police and just plain crazy.

"ARE YOU ALL ON METH?" reads the subject line of a recent post about COG on NederlandInternet.com. "You can toot your own horns and tell me how terrible us cops are, but let me tell you this, the next time a family is held at gunpoint and their daughter raped...I am sure they will reason with you and accept your group hug." In a letter to the Ear's editors, Nederland fire chief Rick Dirr suggested it was time for the town to move away from its reputation as a "cool place in the mountains to come party," and that COG-ers represented the "caucus from the local bars" -- not the majority. "Fewer cops," Dirr wrote. "Doesn't that really mean that you want better odds at not being caught breaking the law?"

COG has fired back at its critics. One of the group's recent ads featured this catchy, if ominous, slogan: "Nederland! Come on Vacation! Leave on Probation!" Another featured a litany of disses directed at town trustee/police commissioner Amy Bayless: "Disappoint, Disastrous, Discourtesy, Discredit, Disgrace, Dismal, Disrespect."

COG's favorite candidate for trustee is "Michigan" Mike Torpie, a thirty-something concert promoter and founder of the NedFest summer music festival, the town's second-largest annual event. (The famed Frozen Dead Guy Days, which celebrates a prodigiously preserved corpse every March, takes top honors.) Although Torpie has a proven track record as a music guy, he's admittedly green as a politico: He ran for the board of trustees in 2002 and lost by one vote. Several of his opponents carry advanced degrees and professional experience in fields ranging from academics to law. But Nederland government has always been a colorful pageant of personality: Bayless is a professional ghost hunter; mayoral candidate Chris Perret is a mechanic. And Torpie is confident that his COG endorsement will help him win.

He's been campaigning steadily since he announced, which basically means walking around, drinking coffee and talking to people on the street. He hasn't done any fundraising (he estimates that his campaign has cost about ten bucks), but he does have a "campaign manager" -- a gigantic eight-year-old St. Bernard/Akita mix named Mountain Girl.

If Torpie loses this time, life in the mountains will go on. And so, too, will life in the Neverland of Nederland.


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